Monday, July 11, 2016

Bibliovile: Low Believability

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The Presidents and UFOs: A Secret History from FDR to Obama, by Larry Holcombe

              Why are some things “dad”-er than others? I don’t think that’s even close to being a real word, but as soon as I said it, I bet something popped up into your head. I bet it was my jokes. My jokes are the daddest of jokes. What’s the scale of dad ratings? The thing is, I don’t think there’s a spectrum of dadditude (that’s the amount of dadness, not a particularly dad-leaning attitude). I think there is just a set of Venn Diagram dad archetypes. We’re not quite sure where we, as men, will fit until we start furiously grasping at hobbies to get away from our kids.

              You’ve got your sports dad, with his jersey tucked in. You’ve got your toys/tech dad which used to be HAM radios and train sets but now seems to be firmly on drones. You’ve even got your health dad, who comes home excited with a new anti-nipple rub solution for this upcoming triathalon. Handiwork Dad, Cool Dad, NASCAR Dad; they’re all sorts of fun little statues to teenage embarrassment.
              But my favorite (from afar, at least), and one of the most rare is Conspiracy Dad. This dad has escaped to his library and study so that he doesn’t have to watch Jennix do her “hip-hop” dance recital. He sees connections where there are none, a grand plan that only he knows how to foil. It seems very relieving to believe everything in life is, while malicious, at least done on purpose. It’s not, obviously, we’re just hurtling through a painful sea of chaos while everyone Does The Best They Can. But Conspiracy Dad doesn’t think so. Conspiracy Dad thinks we’re being kept in the dark.
              Conspiracy Dad isn’t going to stand up for it anymore.
              Sue, this edition, got me “The Presidents and UFOs: A Secret History from FDR to Obama,” by Larry “Conspiracy Dad” Holcombe. It was, questionably, filed in the non-fiction section. It promises to expose the “astounding secret history of U.S. Presidential involvement and control of the UFO phenomenon,” and certainly does its best.

              Unfortunately, its best is fifty thousand third hand accounts. Its best is ten dozen uses of the world “UFOlogist,” which even for a man who is considering adding dadditude to my vernacular, is a stretch. Its best is telling pages-long stories and then being like “Yeah, well, that one probably didn’t happen, but this NEXT one, on the other hand, might have.”
              It was supremely difficult to read- not because it’s badly written, it flows well and makes sense- but because it’s just futile. If Joe Buck did the play-by-play of Steve McQueen’s baseball game in the Great Escape, it would feel about the same as this book.
              “Ohp, he throws the ball and it’s a good one, but it has hit a wall and is now bouncing back, straight into the glove. No go. He retrieves it with a wry smile, and goes to throw it again and- nope, wall!”

              Most history books rely on deepening your knowledge of an event, since it can’t really hold you suspended by the ending- we already know the ending! “Oh man, I hope this slave revolt goes well!” The government doesn’t release conclusive evidence of alien landings. So, instead of REALLY investigating one event or another (I wonder why he wouldn’t pry that deeply into a single event?), Conspiracy Dad strings them together again and again.
              Listen, I hate this position the book, and the UFO phenomenon in general, put me in. I have very little doubt that somewhere in the universe, and galaxy even, intelligent life does exist outside of Earth. Heck, they might even be capable of interstellar travel, why not. But every single UFO story makes me groan. If the book’s thesis was “Hey, aliens probably exist! Neat! Weeee life is grand!” I’d be okay with it. But it’s “America has too much to lose by exposing extraterrestrial life, because of war or something,” and I’m lost.
              Another weird fact about Conspiracy Dad is that one flavor of cover-up is never good enough. They all want a cover-up buffet. Not satisfied with Roswell or the other landings of “high believability” (which is damning with faint praise, if I’ve ever seen it), the Holcombe also links the JFK assassination and the general sense of, if not specifically referenced, the Illuminati. Roswell and the Moon Landing conspiracies seem to be the gateway drugs to harder stuff, like 9/11 Truthing and Lizard People. But unfortunately, Holcombe is relatively straight-edged and strays away from anything too entertainingly crazy, sticking to UFOs, Kennedy, and Ancient Aliens. Really on brand. Too bad.
              The book is about 75% pre-Kennedy presidents. Hmmm, once we got people in space, we didn’t immediately see all four-to-six-to-twelve (all numbers suggested) species that have visited our planet. It hardly covers anything at all after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hmmm, once the Cold War ended, we stopped jumping at every shadow.
              Anyway, ya’ll ever notice that now that always-on cameras (security, nature webcams, dashcams) have become pretty ubiquitous, we’ve stopped hearing about UFO sightings?

No Christmas Like the Present, by Sierra Donovan
              No Christmas Like the Present, by Sierra Donovan, is meant to be a cheery, light-hearted tale of a woman named Lindsay recapturing the joy of Christmas, helped along by a charming and lovable angel (a la It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol) named Fred. Happily, at the end of the book, Lindsay and Fred fall in love, ensuring that all of Lindsay’s future Christmases will be merry and bright. In theory, this book will put the reader in a cheerful and festive mood, ready to enjoy the best that Christmastime has to offer.

              In reality, this book is creepy as hell.

              No Christmas Like the Present is legitimately eerie. A strange man shows up on a lonely, vulnerable woman’s doorstep at Christmastime and uses trickery, manipulation, and impossible-sounding stories to convince her to let him into her house. She continues to ignore the feeling in the back of her mind that this guy is bad news, and lets him charm her. He continually shows up out of nowhere, he always seems to know exactly where she is, and he never takes no for an answer.
              If you refuse to buy into Fred’s explanation of why here’s there (his “supervisors” at “headquarters” have sent him to help Lindsay enjoy Christmas), and suspend your belief in Christmas magic, you have a clear cut story of an insane stalker successfully manipulating a woman into falling in love with him.
              Examples: When Fred shows up on Lindsay’s doorstep the first time, she thinks he’s crazy and closes the door in his face. Instead of, I don’t know, going the hell away, Fred vanishes into thin air and then magically appears in Lindsay’s living room. Christmas magic or breaking and entering? You decide! Less than twenty-four hours after forcing his way into her home uninvited meeting Lindsay, Fred proceeds to show up at her company Christmas party, again uninvited, and ingratiate himself with her friends in order to spend more time with her. He is charming and attentive, making all of her friends and coworkers like him. If everybody else likes him, then the nagging feeling in the back of Lindsay’s mind must be wrong, right? She should definitely listen to people under the influence of alcohol and Christmas spirit, and not trust her own gut about the man who literally broke into her house.
              In another example of this exact same thing, Lindsay thinks to herself, “She had a man standing in front of her with a full-size fragrant tree, and the most beguiling smile she’d ever seen. Someone who’d shown her nothing but warmth, even if he did have trouble taking no for an answer. For the first time, she admitted to herself that she wasn’t so sure she wanted him to go away.” Girl. Just because a man buys you presents and has a nice smile DOES NOT MEAN that you should abandon your intuition! Not taking no for answer isn’t charming -- it means he doesn’t respect what you want! If you let a strange man into your home and then immediately think to yourself, “What have I done?” then you need to trust your instincts and get him the hell out.

*******Side note, as weird and creepy as Fred is, he does share my feelings about artificial Christmas trees:
              L: Fred, I told you, I already have a tree.
              F: No, you have a little artificial electric weed.
This is the only time I support Fred in this book.*******
              More examples of Fred being a creepy stalker/abusive potential boyfriend/insane person: Fred doesn’t feel the cold, because he’s a magic crazy angel person, but he pretends to be freezing and miserable to guilt Lindsay into letting him into her car. Because guilt-trips, manipulation, and lying are all great traits in a potential suitor. On day three of knowing each other, Fred decides that he wants to take Lindsay out on some sort of Christmas-themed excursion, but she’s at work. She says no. He goes and talks her boss, sweet talks the boss into giving Lindsay the afternoon off, and then pulls her out the door even though she told him no.  NOT OKAY.
              One of the creepiest things: Fred does everything he can to keep Lindsay from writing her Christmas cards, (meaning, from communicating with her friends and family). At one point, when the exposition focuses on Fred’s train of though, he actually admits, “That had become his strategy. Keep her laughing. Keep her busy. Keep her mind off the stack of Christmas cards perched on the tray in front of the sofa.” Do anything that he possibly can to keep her from communicating with her loved ones. In what universe is that not weird? Keeping your partner isolated by preventing them from communicating with friends and family is classic emotional abuse, not a cute way of making someone “live in the moment” and “enjoy the holiday spirit.” Even worse, in the epilogue of the story, we learn that Lindsay quits her job (a job that she loves, with supportive coworkers and bosses that she truly likes and respects) to open a bakery with Fred, and that she no longer sends Christmas cards. THIS IS NOT CUTE AND FUNNY. This stalker man has succeeding in isolating her from everyone that she knows, spends all of his time with her, both at home and at work, and doesn’t allow her to communicate with her loved ones. This is super creepy and weird.
Good work, fiction
              Okay now let’s talk about that engagement that I totally spoiled. Sorry bout it. TWICE in this book there are examples of couples getting engaged at Christmastime when the woman didn’t really want to say yes, but she got caught up in the moment and the excitement and the pretty diamond ring. One example is Jeanne, Lindsay’s best friend from work. We see Lindsay’s genuine concern for Jeanne, since she feels that Jeanne’s fiance does not treat her well, and that Jeanne is not actually happy about the engagement. Later, we learn that the same thing happened to Lindsay when she was only nineteen. Her best friend from high school, who became her boyfriend, proposed when she was home from college on Christmas break. He proposed in front of a whole party, and Lindsay felt obligated to say yes. She didn’t actually want to marry him, though, and wound up leaving the ring on his bedside table and running away. Throughout the story, we learn how this experience has ruined Christmas for Lindsay, and that she has been unable to forgive herself for how she handled the situation.
              We learn all of this about our main character, and then we’re supposed to be excited when she is put in the same exact situation (public engagement, at Christmastime) at the end of the book from a character she has only known for three weeks? No thanks.

              TL;DR, If you suspend your belief in the “magic of Christmas,” this is a story about a possessive stalker who takes advantage of a lonely woman at Christmastime by making her believe that movies like A Christmas Carol  and It’s a Wonderful Life are real, separates her from friends and family and coworkers, and controls her life forever.

Well-written, but creepy as all get-out.

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